Two articles that have hit ZDNet during the week of Apple’s Spring Loaded event have some questionable takes which are contrarian yet incomplete. Both target the newly announced 24″ iMac and fail to recognize the target demographics, historical context of the outgoing platforms, and potential to minimize environmental impact. We won’t assert that a competing company’s marketing budget paid for these somewhat incomplete takes, but the fundamental assertions made in the associated articles are missing pieces of the big picture.
First, we have Adrian Kingsley-Hughes singing praises for the M1 silicon in a single paragraph. The subsequent word salad ignores the intent and target of the platform. As a replacement for the twenty-one inch, Intel-based iMac, the upgradability and consumer repair arguments are already thrown out of the window. Configurations for the preceding iMac involved soldered, non-upgradeable components with respect to storage and memory. If anything, the migration of the power supply to an external implementation reduces the events where repair and disassembly is required. As for the memory and storage elements, laptops and all-in-one systems are transitioning to the same paradigm. The Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 5 we purchased last year has its memory soldered. While the SSD, WiFi adapter, and battery may be replaced by the end user, the push for thinner and lighter designs will lead to the same pattern that has incurred the author’s position against Apple. The salient point at the end that warrants consideration involves the definition of getting the no-longer-utilized platform back to Apple with a higher degree of consistency for recycling purposes. It would not be surprising to find that a robotic recycling process that is similar to iPhones will be available for M1 logic boards.
Robin Harris took a different approach with a greater number of flaws in equating a Mac mini setup to the new iMac. The monitor alternatives that have been proposed to pair with the Mac mini aren’t of the same caliber with respect to color accuracy or capability. Professional monitors that are suited for associated media workflows are much more expensive than the budget 4K options that are referenced. We have a 32″ LG 4K display which uses a VA panel and doesn’t match the fidelity of the iMac’s display for color reproduction or contrast. LG’s UltraFine 4K display, which would be one of the closest equivalents to the integrated panel within the iMac, is $700 USD. $700 USD for the entry level Mac mini + $700 for the LG UltraFine 4K monitor is… ummmm…. $1,400 USD. How much is the new iMac with a comparable set of ports? $1,499 USD. The $99 upcharge includes the Magic Keyboard with Touch ID. The inclusion of a 1080p webcam and reworked audio input and output system for the iMac addresses the “wish list” of core functionality upgrades over the M1 MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. The one feature that the Mac mini is now capable of (via custom order) that the new iMac missed out on involves 10Gb networking. This $100 upgrade is reasonable for improving the transfer speeds between capable devices. This can be done externally at a higher cost through an available Thunderbolt port, but the focus on aesthetics for the iMac would involve another iteration of the power brick/Ethernet port combination if the system would support such connectivity.
As a first-generation product, the M1 silicon is extremely impressive. Workflows that support applications tuned for execution natively can complete much faster and consume less power. As successive generations are released, the support for non-integrated memory and storage will manifest. While Robin believes that a 16″ MacBook Pro or the 30″ iMac will provide the desired performance and resources, we’ll take the skeptical path based on the design of the impending M1 iMac. The external memory bay on the back of the 27″ Intel-based iMac was seamless in its design due to the curvature of the chassis and cooling requirements for the Intel-based processor that may be paired with an AMD-based GPU. If the M1X, M2, or whatever Apple calls the upscaled or next-generation system-on-chip is dropped into a 16″ MacBook Pro form factor, the expectation of memory and storage not being user-upgradeable remains intact. With the “thin and light” design of the new iMac, the expectation is that a 30″ iMac will also be limited to whatever is installed at time of order.
The Mac Pro replacement is where we’re anticipating Apple to provide a path for user serviceability. If the rumors around a step-up model that falls between the Mac mini and Mac Pro are made reality, then this intermediate model would serve as the entry point for purchasing an Apple Silicon platform that can grow as required. With existing supply-chain related challenges plaguing the PC market, Apple’s integrated approach makes sense. It doesn’t protect against potential, impending price surges for memory and storage, but it does assure customers that they can get a complete system with fewer risks of lackluster availability due to the Cryptocurrency Boom 2.0.
The target market for M1 solutions, independent of form factor, may be appealing to a wide demographic of individuals that are well-served by a “one and done” purchase that provides multiple years of service. It’s adept at slicing and dicing video, it does fairly well with media transcoding, it can handle entertainment titles design to run natively, and it’s overkill for browsing and basic productivity tasks. There are certainly pro-level use cases which warrant a much larger pool of local resources or a different platform altogether. The picture will be much clearer once Apple completes its transition to utilizing its silicon across all of its form factors and platforms.